Community organizing initiatives surrounding the BP Oil Spill Gulf Coast RESTORE Act have increased recently around Escambia County and the Gulf Coast despite Judge Barbier’s ruling setting the penalty phase of the civil trial for January 2015. It seems as if the interest in the RESTORE Act process has generated a new sense of community building in Escambia County generating conversations between representatives of Cantonment, Walnut Hill, Century, and urban inner-city communities. Additionally, Florida’s twenty-three Gulf Coast Counties are also mobilizing in preparation for the RESTORE Act funding.
The county governments along the Gulf of Mexico have formed a consortium to meet requirements of the RESTORE Act to develop a State Expenditure Plan for economic and environmental recovery of the coastal communities in Florida. The Gulf Consortium is a public entity created in October 2012 by Inter-local Agreement among Florida’s 23 coastal counties, from Escambia County in the western panhandle of Florida to Monroe County on the southern tip of Florida and is being led by Escambia County’s own County Commissioner Grover Robinson. The Consortium Board of Directors consists of one representative from each county government.
Josh Womack, Chairman of the Cantonment Community Improvement Committee called a special meeting at Greater 1st Baptist Church in Cantonment which is led by Pastor Rev. Kenneth Jessie. The attendees received an update by the NAACP Pensacola Branch Economic Development Committee Chair, Tony McCray, on the Escambia County RESTORE Act Advisory Committee progress. Womack invited the residents of Cantonment, Walnut Hill, and Century to participate in the meeting. McCray shared the chart depicting the penalty levels for Escambia County at approximately $160,000,000 if there is a $15 Billion penalty handed down by Judge Barbier. He explained that the eligible activities for use of the funds will be focused on workforce development, environment, and infrastructure.
McCray also shared that the local NAACP Branch and the Gulf Coast African American Chamber became engaged early in the RESTORE Act Advisory Committee presentations. Both groups provided input from the Escambia County African-American community on what the Return on Investment (ROI) Criteria should be for the projected millions of dollars Escambia County is slated to receive. In other words, what community-wide impacts and benefits should Escambia County Black citizens receive from the RESTORE Act funding process? Taking a page from the Gulf Consortium organizational structure, the North County citizens began brainstorming ideas for projects and how their communities could collaborate on North County workforce development and infrastructure initiatives.
Josh Womack, the improvement committee’s Chairman, responded positively to ideas for collaboration on RESTORE projects and received support from Century resident Rev. Henry Hawkins, Pastor of Damascus Baptist Church in Flomaton, and former Century City Councilman. The groups agreed to continue the dialogue on North Florida community collaboration and to generate a larger conversation around the possibility for a countywide collaborative to seek RESTORE Act funding in concert with African-American neighborhoods in Commissioner Lumon May’s District 3.